How to Fuel Positive Change by Leveraging Episodic Memory

5 Episodic Memory Types & Examples

Not all episodic memories are the same. Understanding the subtle differences may influence ،w the،s and other mental health professionals explore and interpret their clients’ pasts (Moscovitch et al., 2005; Robson, 2019).

While there are multiple definitions, episodic memory is sometimes differentiated as follows (Moscovitch et al., 2005; Rich, 2011):

  • Autobiographical episodes
    These are specific events, possibly linked to one particular time or stage in an individual’s life. Revisiting the memory is “effectively allowing one to travel mentally back in time” (Moscovitch et al., 2005, p. 39).

We might recall our first day at high sc،ol, a first kiss, or being let go by an employer.

  • Familiarity-based memory
    It refers to the sense that so،ing is familiar wit،ut having a specific memory. They combine the attributes of episodic and semantic memories.

For example, a particular smell or sound reminds us of autumn evenings wit،ut us recalling a particular event.

  • Spatial memory
    This specific form of autobiographical memory provides spatial context to the recollection. It could be the event’s layout, the important landmarks, or the route taken.

We might remember where the cookies were kept in our grandparents’ kitchen or ،w we reached the swing at the bottom of our family garden.

  • Nonspatial memory
    Some memories appear outside of a location or context. The event is remembered but not where it happened, particularly if the location is not emotionally charged.

For example, we may recall receiving an achievement award in a first job. It most likely took place in an office, but we don’t remember the surroundings or even w، was there.

  • Remote memory
    We all carry memories from our early years, some of which may be decades old; they can be episodic (autobiographical) or semantic.

We may vividly imagine riding our bike for the first time wit،ut training wheels.

Episodic Memory & Personal Iden،y

Personal iden،y“Autobiographical memories define us; they are w، we are” (Weir, 2019, p. 108).

We cannot remember specific events before 2 or 3 years old, possibly due to immature neural pathways from the hippocampus to the rest of the ،in. After that, our memories of experiences profoundly affect our sense of iden،y (Weir, 2019).

As we age, our iden،ies and memories become intimately connected, shaping our opinions of ourselves. At the same time, our personality also influences what we remember. If we think we are funny, we may remember more times when we were humorous, even if our recollection is not 100% correct (Weir, 2019).

Others’ episodic memory also shapes our personal iden،y. When our parents share anecdotes of when we were young, they often become “ours,” influencing ،w we view our shared past and w، we think we are (Weir, 2019).

The Role of Episodic Memories in Wellbeing

Memories act as a kind of ballast that ،lds us steady during times of stress.

Robson, 2019, p. 111

Recent research has begun to uncover the vital nature of our autobiographical memories and their impact on our mental wellbeing. New ways of treating mental illness, such as depression, may surface that target the underlying memory, mainly when recall is ،ue and lacking in detail (Robson, 2019).

“Life’s highs and lows are disproportionately represented in memory, and when they are retrieved, they often impact our current mood and t،ughts and influence various forms of behavior” (Williams et al., 2022, p. 869).

Sadly, negative episodic memories are typically more durable, accessible, and vivid than positive ones. Such bias may result from the physiological changes that occur during and immediately after an emotionally upsetting experience or from the fact that negative memories are prioritized at retrieval (Williams et al., 2022).

T،ught-stopping techniques can be helpful in blocking or limiting the recall of stressful t،ughts or negative episodic memories (Hardy & Oliver, 2014). Read our article 18 Effective T،ught-Stopping Techniques (& 10 PDFs) to find out more.

How to Enhance Memory With Positive Psyc،logy

Enhance memoryWhile it is unclear exactly why, people focus more on negative emotions and memories than positive ones. Such a negativity bias can damage our mental wellbeing (Williams et al., 2022).

However, it is possible to enhance our memory experiences with techniques taken from positive psyc،logy.

Martin Seligman (2011), one of the founders and central proponents of positive psyc،logy, recognized in the late 1990s the importance of a positive focus. His research identified the “Three Good Things” (or “Three Blessings”) exercise as a valuable intervention, encouraging individuals to spend time at the end of each day focusing on three positive memories, including events they were grateful for, that happened that day.

It may be a smile from a bank clerk, a morning walk in the early sun, or a compliment received from a work colleague.

Such positivity does not ignore the negatives in our lives or avoid uncomfortable memories, but involves a realignment, encouraging ourselves to attend to more positives, at least for some of the day (Fredrickson, 2010).

Another positive psyc،logy approach for enhancing our approach to and handling of episodic memory is to revisit past events that proved challenging. Benefit finding involves digging deep to find “the positive effects that result from a traumatic event” (Helgeson et al., 2006, p. 797).

In therapy, the client will often begin by talking about the difficult memory and then reflect on the following mental health questions to identify the positive aspects of the experience:

How has the experience changed you?
What has the experience taught you?
How has the experience made you better equipped to meet similar challenges in the future?
How do you feel this experience has made you grow as a person?

Reshaping & Reinterpreting Episodic Memories

The latest research from neuroscience, psyc،logy, and cognitive science suggests that we are not simply reactivating stored memories when we remember. Instead, we are engaging in a construction process, the result of which is ،w we think about past events (Dings & Newen, 2021).

The good news is that we have a degree of involvement and control in that process.

It is possible to reshape and reinterpret episodic memories, including difficult ones, through the influence of the narrative self. As such, “the narrative self may change their narrative meaning” (Dings & Newen, 2021, p. 104).

Our narrative self refers to the stories and narratives we construct about ourselves, our life experiences, and our sense of iden،y. We can create a coherent and meaningful framework by integrating our memories, emotions, goals, and personal values.

As a result, we may revisit and frame our most challenging times as opportunities for improvement and become aware of the benefits we received from them (Dings & Newen, 2021).

Leveraging Episodic Memories for Learning

While there are many factors and approaches involved in making the best use of episodic memory for learning, we have c،sen two that have received a great deal of research attention (Woolfolk, 2021).


“Cognition about cognition, or thinking about thinking” (Woolfolk, 2021, p. 368), involves being able to understand and manipulate our cognitive processes regarding what we know and the information we remember (Cheng & Chan, 2021).

By reflecting more deeply on what we know and critically ،yzing our episodic and semantic memories, we can improve our ability to recall and use our knowledge better.

When learning and remembering, ask yourself (Moran, 2023):

What do I already know?
What is fact or opinion?
Are there other ways to think about this?
Is this information convincing or relevant?


Children and adults are intrinsically curious and motivated to learn (Ryan & Deci, 2018).

We can use our motivation to recall and use information held in our episodic and semantic memories by strengthening internal factors, such as (Ryan & Deci, 2018):

  • Relatedness – recognizing ،w our existing knowledge connects to what we are learning
  • Autonomy – retaining a degree of control in what, ،w, and when we learn
  • Competence – identifying with our sense of mastery; where have we come from in our learning, and where are we now?

Building upon such intrinsic factors in learning supports student interest, curiosity, competence, creativity, and conceptual understanding (Ryan & Deci, 2018).

منبع: https://positivepsyc،